Four Americans Convicted in U.K. Smuggling Case

Four Americans have been convicted of drug smuggling charges so far following the arrests of nine Americans at Heathrow Airport in January.
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Four U.S. nationals have been convicted of smuggling cannabis into the United Kingdom and now face time behind bars for their crimes, according to statements made by law enforcement officials. The convictions follow a rash of marijuana smuggling attempts made last month at London’s Heathrow Airport that resulted in the arrests of nine Americans in the span of a week.

On Friday, the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) announced that three Americans were convicted of charges of importing class B drugs. In one case, 24-year-old Barrington Walters of Los Angeles, and Mandy Silowka, 34, of Princeton, New Jersey, were detained at Heathrow Airport by Border Force personnel after arriving on the same United Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport on January 17. Officers discovered 33 kilos (more than 72 pounds) of herbal cannabis in luggage belonging to Walters and another 26.5 kilos (more than 58 pounds) of weed in Silowka’s suitcase.

The pair were interviewed by NCA investigators and subsequently charged with importing class B drugs. On February 23, Silowka and Walters admitted their roles in the smuggling plot at Isleworth Crown Court in London and were convicted of the charges against them. Silowka received a 12-month custodial sentence, and Walters was given a 10-month jail term.

The next day, Kiara Lanee Malone, 31, a clothing boutique owner from St. Louis, Missouri, also pleaded guilty to charges of importing class B drugs. Following her conviction in Isleworth Crown Court on Friday, she was remanded into custody and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 5.

Malone was arrested at Heathrow Airport on January 10 after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles when Border Force officers discovered 27.5 kilos (just over 60 pounds) of cannabis in her luggage. Malone told investigators that she was traveling to the U.K. for cosmetic procedures and admitted to bringing the bags, but said that she had been given the luggage by another person and thought that they contained clothing.

“These cases serve as further warnings to those who think they can get away with smuggling drugs into the U.K.,” NCA Heathrow Branch Commander Andy Noyes said in a statement from the law enforcement agency on February 24. “No matter what you might get told by those organizing these trips, you will get caught, and as these individuals will tell you, you will face jail time. The NCA and our partners in Border Force are determined to do all we can to target drugs couriers, and disrupt the international organized crime groups involved in drug trafficking.”

Last week’s cases followed the conviction of U.S. national Zered Akolo, a 26-year-old photographer from Antioch, California who was arrested at Heathrow Airport shortly after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles on January 16. Border Force officers searched his two checked bags and found 47 kilos (more than 103 pounds) of cannabis. Despite having luggage tags bearing his name, Akolo initially told investigators that the bags were not his. 

After questioning by NCA investigators, he was charged with attempting to import class B drugs. At a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court on Thursday, February 16, Akolo pleaded guilty to importing class B drugs and was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

“Akolo was foolish in the extreme to think he could get away with a brazen drug smuggling trip like this. As a result he faces a long period of time away from friends and family in a British jail,” Noyes said in a statement from the NCA on February 16. “I hope this case serves as a warning to others who would consider acting as drug mules for organized criminal gangs – it isn’t worth taking the chance.”

Nine Americans Arrested On Smuggling Charges In January

The convictions follow the arrests of nine Americans on drug smuggling charges at Heathrow Airport in just one week’s time in January. The smuggling attempts came as government officials engaged in a renewed debate over cannabis policy in the U.K. In July of last year, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel announced proposed new sanctions on users of cannabis and other drugs that include the confiscation of driver’s licenses and passports under a new three-strikes policy for illicit drug use. 

“Drugs are a scourge across society. They devastate lives and tear communities apart,” Patel said in a statement from the government. “Drug misuse puts lives at risk, fuels criminality and serious and violent crime and also results in the grotesque exploitation of young, vulnerable people.”

Under the proposal, which was detailed in a white paper drafted by the Home Office, those caught with illegal recreational drugs would face fines and mandatory drug education. They could also be banned from nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

Three months later, U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed that she was considering tightening the classification of cannabis under the nation’s drug laws over concerns that marijuana is a gateway drug and can lead to serious health problems. Braverman’s review followed calls from law enforcement leaders to reclassify cannabis as a Class A drug, the same category assigned to substances including heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy.

But then last month, a group of police chiefs in the United Kingdom announced a plan to effectively decriminalize the possession of drugs including cannabis and cocaine. If adopted by the government, the use and possession of small amounts of recreational drugs would be treated as a public health issue for first-time offenders, rather than a criminal offense subject to prosecution and jail time or other punishment.

The proposals, which were developed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing, would effectively decriminalize the possession of Class A drugs including cocaine and Class B substances such as marijuana. Under the plan, individuals caught with illegal drugs would be offered an opportunity to attend drug education or treatment programs, rather than being subjected to prosecution.

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